Understanding the body language of the noble quadrupeds
What’s my horse trying to tell me?
“You can’t not communicate” – with this the Austrian psychologist Paul Watzlawick hit the mark not only on a human but also on an animal level. But what is the big challenge here: Horses communicate with us as they do with their own kind. Often, however, humans misinterpret their movements, which is why the noble four-legged friends usually stop their advances. At the same time, the highly sensitive animals again misinterpret our human gestures and react accordingly.
In order to create a real sense of unity between rider and horse and to prevent misunderstandings, it is very important to overcome communication barriers by a deep understanding of the small but fine gestures. We explain how to interpret horse language correctly and thus learn a lot about your animal.
Rapid movements mean attack
Horses are actually rather quiet creatures that communicate with each other mainly through body language. Only with a small touch or an intense gaze the escape animals already send important messages. If a horse approaches a conspecific in the paddock with rapid movements, this usually means “attack”. The lower-ranked horse finally moves away and makes way for the higher-ranked one. Since humans tend to approach the noble four-legged friend quickly, horses often think that someone wants to challenge their ranking. If, on the other hand, you let your four-legged friend drive you away, you will lose the respect of your animal partner.
Whoever takes a horse from the paddock should therefore always approach the animal with slow steps and calm movements. A light crawl at the withers shows him that you are friendly.
Glances say more than a thousand words
Eye contact between people is usually interpreted as a positive sign of encouragement or kindness. If, on the other hand, you look a horse directly into its eyes, it often perceives this as a threat or challenge. The reason: even predators usually look their prey directly in the eyes and fixate on it. So for the four-legged friends, direct eye contact means as much as “better run away”. It is therefore important to approach horses calmly and slowly and not to look them directly in the eyes, but rather, for example, on the shoulder or flank.
However, targeted equine communication can also mean taking advantage of the animals’ body language in certain situations. For example, you can stand upright in front of a noble four-legged friend, look him directly in the eyes and make it clear with an audible breathing that he has to subordinate himself to you. It is important to know that horses are not resentful later on. Unlike us humans, they only understand so-called “immediate reactions” and cannot make any connections to situations later on.
Being able to “smell” each other
Horses can practically smell it as soon as a person is insecure or scared. So if you only pretend to be self-confident, you won’t be able to convince your four-legged friends of this so easily: Because of their fine sense of smell, they perceive certain aromas and scents much earlier than we humans. Smells can even tell the noble four-legged friend something about emotions and state of health.
Since horses can move their ears independently, it is possible that they can practically focus on both the rider and the environment. However, this sometimes causes them to be uncertain about which stimulus to respond to.
If the ears are directed backwards when riding, this suggests that they are concentrating on the rider. However, very narrow ears can be an indication of aggression, fear or stress. The horse is usually relaxed when the ears are slightly tilted backwards. Ears tilted to the side are again a sign that the horse is dozing or even bored.